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U.S. deep freeze to persist hampering grain, livestock movement

By Sam Nelson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Cold weather is expected to continue through at least the balance of the year in the U.S. Midwest which will keep many river shipping channels frozen and prevent normally smooth transfer of grain, an agricultural meteorologist said on Friday.

Snowfall and bitter cold temperatures also likely will continue to slow truck traffic of grain, livestock and other products, he said.

"For rivers to be freezing this early in the year is a bit unusual but I don't see any relief from that, as a matter of fact after next week another blast of Arctic air is expected," said John Dee, meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.

Concern about ice slowing the delivery of grain barges on the Midwest rivers has lifted cash grain values but a blanket of insulating snow has been protecting the U.S. winter wheat crop from harm.

Dee said temperatures would not drop as low as the zero (degree Fahrenheit) seen earlier this week but the low temperatures would remain below freezing in the teens F and 20s F in roughly the northern two-thirds of the Midwest.

"The freeze line has been south of the Ohio River the past week and it will ease northward into Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, but there won't be any relief to river traffic," he said.

Truck traffic may be impaired from Friday into the weekend due to heavy snowfall in portions of Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, Dee said.

"Late today and tomorrow you can expect about 3.0 to 6.0 inches of snow through central Illinois, Indiana and Ohio," he said.

Joel Widenor, meteorologist for Commodity Weather Group, said that although cold weather would continue to blanket the U.S. Plains and Midwest winter wheat belt the threat of winterkill remained low because of an insulating blanket of snow.

"Additional snow of 2.0 to 6.0 inches in the Midwest wheat region and potentially heavier snows next week should ensure the wheat is safe from winterkill," he said.

Widenor said snowfall in the Plains wheat region also should protect the crop from the bitter and relentlessly cold temperatures. "The Plains snow potential is more limited but the damage risk is still low," he said.

(Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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